A quick-spreading outbreak of Chinese flu has ruined the holidays for tens of thousands of Italians, filled hospitals and clinics, and left many doctors sick in bed, Italian newspapers report.

The outbreak surprised health officials, who had predicted the annual flu season would begin in January, according to news reports Wednesday.While health officials do not consider this year's virus, which they think originated in Chinese pigs, to be more severe than recent types, its timing has caused numerous problems.

Throughout Italy, family doctors, understaffed emergency rooms and clinics were unprepared for the onslaught of people seeking relief from the virus, which is considered dangerous only to infants and the elderly. There have been no reports of deaths in Italy from the flu.